MINNEAPOLIS - Every time there is a mass shooting, such as the Accent Signage Systems deaths earlier this year or Friday's Sandy Hook School tragedy, involving a perpetrator with mental health issues, it focuses our attention on mental health care. Minnesota is either in or close to a crisis in such care.
"It is very concerning to all of us in this field," commented Dr. S. Charles Schulz, M.D., Professor and Head of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Minnesota. "We have a shortage in (patients) getting an appointment. We have a shortage in getting a bed (in a mental health hospital wing), shortage of day treatment programs and it is really a big crisis and takes a long time for people to get the treatment they need."
The shortage of beds in local hospitals mental health wards is so acute that Twin Cities patients needing in-patient treatment can sometimes only be placed in a bed as far away as Duluth or out west.
"It makes it very, very hard...on the family who brings their young person to an emergency room and they are told there are no beds here, there are no beds there," said Schulz. "In the past, people would be staying in the emergency rooms overnight, maybe for a day at some of our public facilities. That is pretty darn stressful as you can imagine."
There is also a shortage of psychiatrists to provide acute care. Dr. Schulz said he has worked to encourage more medical students to choose psychiatry over other specialties. One issue has been that paychecks for psychiatrists is not generally as high as for some other specialties, but the students leave the four years of medical school with the same levels of debt. It can average $150,000 per student.
"We have been pleased the last 3-4 years to be about twice the national average of med students going to psychiatry here at the University of Minnesota," said Schulz.
The Minnesota Department of Health reports that Minnesota ranks 24th among states and the District of Columbia in the number of psychiatrists per 100,000 in population. Wisconsin ranks 26th. Iowa is dead last in the survey, ranking 51st. Number one in the survey is the District of Columbia.
The increased numbers of U of M Medical students choosing the mental health field is encouraging to professionals. National studies claim that 55% of practicing psychiatrists are 55 or older. That means that many of those men and women will be retiring with fewer doctors in line to replace them.
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